“Later on, rising from my bed, I mingled among them. Mrs Zinner’s sideways glances were a source of embarrassment to me. I was certain that she tried to attract my attention, but I ignored her completely. Not so her husband however; him I followed hot on his heels. Was that erudite man astonished on account of my sudden chummy behaviour? Did my freshly awakened thirst for knowledge raise his eyebrows? You bet it did, although his good breeding forbade to mention it.

‘You were a lecturing professor at the Université de Montreal, Dr Zinner,’ I remarked with forced nonchalance.

‘Yes, Mr Carrol, for over twenty years.’

‘Your field of activity was anatomy, human anatomy, was it not?’

“His head jerked up. Giving me a sharp look, accompanied by a sardonic smile, he declared:

‘Not at all, sir, my sphere of knowledge has been and still is pathology.’

“There it was, as I had suspected, that skeleton bore no relevance to the professor’s work, its presence augured a more sinister significance. The next day the professor made one of his excursions down to the river. The moment Mrs Zinner saw her husband’s back, she turned to me murmuring:

‘You have seen it.’

‘Yes,’ I admitted, at the same time pretending to leave the house.

‘You must help me, Mr Carrol,’ she called out behind me in a beseeching voice. Turning around, I said:

‘Help you, in what way, madam?’

‘Take that skeleton away,’ she announced.

“Now, that was a peculiar request. I hesitated, unsure whether to laugh or show anger.

‘I don’t understand, Mrs Zinner, I am a guest here, surely not authorized to remove someone else’s belongings,’ I remonstrated.

‘It does not belong to anybody,’ she hastened to tell me.

“I can’t remember exactly what my reaction was, but no doubt I was dumbfounded.

‘But – but, whose is it, or rather who was it?’

‘My lover.’

“Believe me fellows, by now I wished myself to be anywhere except in that house, or even nearby.  Immensely bewildered I turned away. Through a window the professor could be seen walking away from the house, a fact not unnoticed by his wife, whose company I had not the least desire to share any longer. She told me more.

‘My husband killed him, being a scientist rendered it easy for him, as much as turning the corpse into a skeleton.’

“My head was reeling; my legs, not the strongest yet in any way, began to wobble. I had to sit down.

‘But that is murder, did nobody report it?’ I rasped rather than spoke.

‘No, and neither did I. What could it have earned me but further grief, plus pity and derision. Imagine for a moment, a man of my husband’s stature, esteemed from coast to coast, celebrated in many influential circles, trusted and loved, decried by an adulteress. In any case, who would have thought him capable of such a dastardly deed?’

“I could not put my finger on it, yet her communication struck me as being odd. Something was left out, a vital element was missing. An absence of animosity between them for instance, so peculiar under these circumstances. For indeed they honoured and cherished each other.

‘Mrs Zinner, you asked for my help a moment ago, what do you wish me to do?’

‘Steal the skeleton,’ she answered.

“Being more baffled than before, I suggested a bit petulantly, I am afraid:

‘Why don’t you do it yourself, or for that matter just destroy it?’

“You should have seen the look she hurled at me. Aghast, with eyes distended, staggering backwards, she stammered:

     ‘I can do no such thing, for you see, I made a vow.’

  “The short of it was this: Her husband had discovered their liaison, but never let on that he knew. Her lover just disappeared suddenly. Four weeks later the skeleton showed up. Ostensibly for the professor’s research. Her suspicion, rampant in any case, received confirmation. One fine morning he led her to that frightful shape, where he made an announcement that chilled her to the bones.

 

 

 

The Vow

Excerpt from Without Tears and Other Tales